Bleach attack victim fired after going public

By Peter de Graaf -
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The man subjected to a roadside bleach attack has been fired from his job at Northland Regional Council after going public about a bungled ACC report.

Mike Nager, of Kerikeri, was driving to Whangarei on June 10 last year when he pulled over for a car flashing its lights behind him. An unknown attacker threw bleach in his eyes, slashed his face with a knife, then felled him with a punch to the chest.

Mr Nager had been on his way to court to give evidence against two men in an environmental court case.

He initially returned to work but has been on sick leave since October and is currently on ACC. He had been planning a return to his role as an environmental monitoring officer, but said his chances had been scuppered after ACC sent the council a Stay at Work report which was inaccurate and contained confidential medical information.

ACC rewrote the report and apologised but the council refused to destroy all copies of the original.

Mr Nager took his concerns about ACC and his employer's actions to the Northern Advocate, which published a story on March 15. On Monday morning Mr Nager was informed his employment had been terminated as of March 19.

He has already lodged a complaint with the Privacy Commissioner and is in the process of taking a case for unjustified dismissal, among other things, to the Employment Relations Authority.

Regional council chief executive Malcolm Nicolson said he could not comment on staff-related issues.

ACC has confirmed the original report was incorrect and has also sought its return from the council.

However, an ACC spokeswoman said it did not contain information that would not normally be shared with an employer.

That is disputed by ACC advocate Alex Taylor, who said he could not imagine a worse privacy breach.

The report, which detailed medications and the psychological effects of the attack, had "hopelessly compromised" Mr Nager's ability to go back to his job or even find other work in the same field, Mr Taylor said.

It was not the first time medical information had been wrongly released to an employer but it was the worst case he knew of.

Mr Taylor, who is handling Mr Nager's case, said it was unusual for an employer to refuse to destroy information released in error, but ACC had put the council in an awkward position. No employer should have to grapple with ethics of acting on information it was not supposed to have, he said.

Mr Taylor said he had seen evidence that the council's stance on Mr Nager's employment had changed after receiving the report.

The Office of the Privacy Commissioner does not comment on specific cases. Its advice for anyone who finds private information, or receives it in error, is to return it to the agency it came from.

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